Artifacts are cool. When I think of roleplaying games, I inevitably think of some weird trinket that has been moldering away in ancient walls for eons, only to be pilfered at some point from self-aggrandizing adventures and immediately forgotten in some inventory.
In rare cases, however, they are occasionally used and can provide the decisive bonus in dire situations. Or they provide interesting background information with which the players can dive even deeper into the story and the world.
No, I’m not going to explain the advantages of magic items now, that would be a whole separate article.
Unfortunately, I usually forget to prepare these items in advance and find myself helpless when it comes to coming up with ultra-cool, immersive gizmos.
At the same time, it often occurs to me that I haven’t given the players an artifact or anything like that in a very long time.
I hereby vow to do better. Instead of just giving out something every few years, I have resolved to present some interesting artifact to the players at least every two sessions. Not necessarily for free or without consequence, because that would be too easy and too boring, but at least they should be able to acquire one.
Sure, there’s a chance of falling into a boring, predictable rhythm where players groan loudly every time and say, “Hey, it’s artifact season again.” But I hope my situational self can handle it well enough that it doesn’t become too predictable.
In situations where players encounter an artifact but I haven’t prepared anything special, as I often do, I, and now you, can roll on the following tables in sequence. They are intentionally not meant to provide a concrete result, but rather to support your own imagination, while leaving enough room for your own creativity to flow in.
The table can be used for any genre, because it is designed very generally.
What is it?
Here it has proven itself for me in the game to ask the affected player themselves what exactly it ultimately turns out to be. So what specific instrument or tool it actually is. This also allows them to have a moderate influence on the usefulness of the artifact. I mean, if they never use it, then it does them and the game very little good. It’s much better to have something that they’re emotionally attached to, because it can help them. So it hurts even more when they eventually lose it.
What does it look like?
|Has an unsettling impact on others
|Will break easily
|Must be deciphered before use
|Bigger than normal
|Somewhat damaged from prior occasions
|Very sturdy. Will not damage easily
|Smaller than normal
|Pure monetary value doubles
|Can be used as a weapon
The additional effect can be used to make the object a little more extraordinary, but you should be careful not to make the artifact feel too cluttered. Better simple and memorable than complicated and forgettable.
What does it do?
|Disable a core principle
|Enhance a core principle
|Reverse a core principle
|Add an elemental aspect
|+1 when using it in general (or whatever the equivalent in your system)
|Roll again on type and add a core principle of the rolled item
For the third table, you have to get creative. Often, the result cannot be adopted one-to-one. If you can’t come up with anything yourself, you’re welcome to pass on the implementation to the players. You can trust them to come up with something quite imaginative, which they will also actively use most of the time.
Example objects, created with the assistance of the table:
First throw → household item = spatula
Second throw → Antique
Third throw → Disable a core principle
What is one of the basic principles of a spatula? Well, it has a handle and a large flat surface to turn something over.
I drop the handle as a core principle and what’s left is a surface to flip something with.
Created by an ancient, feeble race to walk on the ceiling. This allowed infrastructure to be used more effectively, resulting in a significant increase in production. The race is now long gone and forgotten, but some pieces of their technology remain. Alphagmor is a completely round disk, one meter in diameter and a few millimeters thick. It is made of a forgotten metal and can withstand even the strongest loads. By unknown mechanisms it always floats a few centimeters above any surface.
Anyone who stands on it and dwells on it for a few moments has their gravity temporarily reversed. The person practically falls away from the earth. The duration of this effect is between 30 minutes and an hour.
First throw → Art object = Statue
Second throw → Unwieldy
Third throw → Enhance a core principle
Core principles of a statue? Simple. It shows an image of something, it usually shows this permanently. It represents something.
The royal statue
Stands in the halls of what is currently the most powerful royal family in the empire. Every day its image changes. One after another, all the regents of the past are depicted, usually in powerful and imposing poses, destroying their enemies or slaying monsters. When someone of royal blood touches the statue, it imprints itself on this new person. From that moment on, every day, the statue shows an image of an ancestor, provided that person has sat on a throne or at least ruled a territory.
During peace, the statue is mostly used as a moderately interesting decoration. In times of war, however, it is also used to single out and kill potential heirs to the throne.
First throw → Tool = Pitchfork
Second throw → Ordinary
Third throw → Reverse a core principle
A pitchfork has several prongs and a long handle. It is usually used to move refuse or straw from one place to another. In times of need, it can also be used as a very effective and deadly makeshift weapon.
The ol’ Reliable
Was found by a weasel named Gustki on an old abandoned farm. The farmer there seems to have used it normally for shoveling manure. Where its strange powers originated from remains unclear to this day.
With the help of The ol’ Reliable, Gustki was able to multiply filth and refuse and move it telepathically as he saw fit. He used the artifact to terrify an entire city. The sewer system in that town was a very useful tool in his campaign to bring the region under his rule. The streets were submerged in garbage and a disgusting plague swept over the residents, killing hundreds before it was stopped. Where this legendary pitchfork is now located is unclear. It seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth.